Anxiety and worry can creep up on us at any time of the day or night. It’s a feeling or set of feelings and a perfectly natural reaction to certain situations where you feel apprehension or fear but can become a problem if the feelings won’t go away or if the feelings are associated with situations that shouldn’t be perceived as negative.
You might be thinking about something you need to do but haven’t, catastrophizing a situation in the future that probably won’t even happen or even feeling anxious for no apparent reason, feeling the sensations of anxiety such as butterflies and light-headedness rather than worrying about a certain situation. Often, our overthinking and negative thoughts will make us perceive something as more threatening than it really is making you feel powerless to do anything about it.
The Amygdala (the part of our brain responsible for fear and emotion) knows what has worried or traumatised you in the past and has a list of responses that can start flight or fight without your consent, preparing your body for an emergency that may never happen. It has a routine and always knows when you are supposed to worry or panic.
We need to show the Amygdala that we can face our fears so here are 5 techniques you can use to soothe yourself, take back control and tame your anxiety monster.
A daily breathing exercise or making mindfulness practice part of your routine is a great way of controlling your anxiety. Not only will it help you during an anxiety attack but, with practice will help you to relax and stop an attack before it starts. As you can meditate just about anywhere, using an app such as Calm or Headspace can help you.
You can do this exercise either sitting up or lying flat on your bed. Remember that there is no right way to breathe, and no need to control your breath. Just relax and breathe however is natural to you.
Try to imagine the air is coming from far away and you are blowing it out to a distant place. Concentrate on your chest or abdomen rising and falling, you might also say to yourself ‘in’ and ‘out’ to match your breathing. Or perhaps think of the word ‘relax’ on each out breath. Your mind will probably wander at some point, and thoughts will arise. Each time it does, don’t worry about it. Acknowledge the thoughts you have, then gently bring your focus back to your breathing.
Regular exercise is another great way to soothe yourself, make you feel good and reduce the feelings of anxiety, stress and depression. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain and heighten feelings of pleasure. Just a walk in nature on your own or maybe with your dog can produce these endorphins, boost your mood and ward off feelings of anxiety.
Practice gratitude. With life becoming more stressful, it’s all too easy to focus on the negative events of the day, you can experience more positive emotions by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things you’re thankful for. These don’t have to be the big things in life such as being thankful for a promotion or pay rise, even just feeling grateful for the scrummy chocolate muffin you’ve just eaten can lift your mood and keep those anxious feelings at bay. Using a gratitude journal and regularly writing brief reflections on moments for which you’re thankful can significantly increase well-being and life satisfaction.
Process and identify all the negative beliefs and emotions you have around anxiety such as: It’s all my fault, it’s a sign of weakness, I will never regain control of my life, it will destroy my life. Change your negative beliefs to positive affirmations – I am in control of my life, anxiety is a natural response when life is challenging. Delay your worry by setting aside 5-10 minutes to worry later – the amygdala doesn’t want you to mindfully worry so use your journal to write it down and come back to it later. Use the 5 second rule to change your worrying thought and take positive action immediately. A negative thought has 5 seconds in your mind before you push it out with a positive one.
Positive self-talk. As human beings our negative self-talk often runs wild. We tend to ruminate, thinking the same oppressive thoughts over and over again. And the more we think these thoughts, the stronger they grow. As our subconscious mind believes everything we tell it, replacing well-worn paths of negative thinking with fresh paths of positive thinking can be incredibly powerful. When a negative thought arises, instead of ignoring it, write it down. It might be “I’m useless at my job, I’m sure nobody likes me” Then identify the thought that triggered it and write down a positive alternative to the negative statement. “I’m new here and no-ones got to know me yet” This exercise can give you an awareness of the negative thinking and a chance to look at the problem from a new, positive angle. Ask yourself, is there any actual evidence for what I am thinking? What would I say to a friend in the same situation? Can I do anything to change the situation I am in?
The more you work on improving your self-talk the easier you’ll find it. It won’t be easy at first, but with time and practice you will get better.
Want to learn how to do this with support? Come and work with me in my therapy room in Black Dam, Basingstoke. Just a few sessions will give you the confidence and tools you need to live an anxiety free life. www.alisonisaacstherapy.co.uk